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I'm designing interface for medical program, which will be used to show clients their data from sensors in real time. So, it will not be used for real work and will only implement some basic functionality. Because of that, I can sacrifice some usability, and create more visual elements, like in Sci-Fi movies. But do these interfaces look reliable for people? Do people trust them, or they look like fake from movies? All data will be 100% real, so question is only about way of demonstration. Maybe I should forget about Sci-fi elements and create regular clean design? What do you think?

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  • I'd be lying if I say that the older gaming.stackexchange.com UI looked sketchy AF! That being said, know your customers. A young adult might think it's cool, while a 25+ y/o would get suspicious. I'd suggest going for clarity instead of savvy Commented Dec 13, 2018 at 12:39
  • I suppose, they look... technical. (really, the best option in any case). Commented Aug 14, 2021 at 4:34

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The question is: 'is it acceptable to display a fantasy UI to clients with the caveat that a savvy user / business owner might see this and call us out on it?'

A caveat re: 'cool UI'

I don't think there's one particular answer to this, but the caveat is if these screens showcase their data in a way that's 'cool' but makes no sense from a perspective of someone who knows, you run the risk of looking superficial / uninformed for their particular domain.

You never know where your design might leak to inside a client org.

If you're selling an explicit fantasy world

If the idea is to showcase the data in a complete and explicit futuristic context for a commercial perhaps, then you might have some license.

Sci fi interfaces may have some lessons to offer.

One resource perhaps to give you an idea about science fiction fantasy UI elements, and how they could be borrowed for present day UI is: Make it So, by Nathan Shedroff. He's a thoughtful writer who examines some useful takeaways from Sci Fi interfaces. So you might be able to press the cool factor while still telling a coherent story with the clients' data.

Bottom line:

Be wary of being pegged as a visual decorator, because you still have to solve relevant and specific use cases for your clients. Don't let them doubt you or think you might approach something in a superficial way.

Dribbble is littered with cool 'secret project' dashboards which are complete nonsense in terms of usability.

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Be careful to ensure you're designing for your users and not yourself. Is a "sci-fi" interface aligned with the stated functional goal of showing your clients their data in real time? Will the added visual elements make the data more understandable to your clients? The fact that you've stated you feel you can "sacrifice usability" should be a warning sign that you may not be doing your users a favor.

I would refer you to the classic principles of good design put forth by legendary product designer Dieter Rams: https://www.designprinciplesftw.com/collections/ten-principles-for-good-design. Specifically, principles 4, 5, 6, and 10.

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Except perhaps for background images, I see no difference between Sci-Fi/futuristic interfaces and "ordinary" interfaces. In fact, I see plenty of really horrible/useless/misleading data presented in charts that look "professional". It is really a question of the reliability of the data (which is sometimes beyond the presentation software's control) and following best practices in the presentation so as not to mislead people. Simple things like:

  • Don't start a comparison chart at a number other than 0 unless there is a good reason to do so. Scale variations of other types matter too. Simple classic examples: Misleading chart example Chart on the left (red circle) is misleading because it starts at 24,300 which makes the DJIA look extremely volatile.

The chart on the right (green circle) starts at 10 (I thought it was 0 but it is actually 10) and is misleading in a different way because it is logarithmic, not linear.

  • Present all relevant information. An extreme example (which I have not seen) might be to present only one of the 2 blood pressure numbers (e.g., 120 instead of 120/80). That is a contrived example, but there are plenty of situations where only partial information is included - perhaps just to make for a cleaner display - but the result can be people jumping to conclusions based on insufficient data.

  • Don't overload the display. A background image is OK, but don't make it too distracting. Using cute icons instead of small circles/squares/etc. on a chart is OK but if you make them too big they can get in the way of understanding the meaning. Don't put too many variables on one chart - it is easy to understand 3 - 5 lines overlaid on one chart, but if you throw 20 on one chart (I see this all the time) it becomes just a mishmash.

  • Make sure color schemes don't get in the way of readable data.

And I could go on and on. Other people better than me have written books on the topic.

Bottom line: Whether just a personal product or a full business system, being able to read and understand the output is more important than the "theme". Make the "theme" anything, but make the data readable.

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